Almost four years ago, I was at the peak of my business career managing 10 quick-service restaurants and making a decent salary for a 24-year-old. I loved working in hospitality but I had an even bigger love for computer science – specifically engineering software. I had no knowledge on how to program and knew even less about what to do to get started in that field.
One day I dropped everything I was doing, pursued my passion and started my journey to becoming a computer programmer. In fact, I’m still in the middle of this journey. The more I learn, the more I realize that it is a never-ending journey. Coding is an area where new technologies keep you busy all the time.
At the time, I was part of a large online community that shared a love for programming. I came across a tutor living in the same city who helped fill me in on what coding is all about. We worked together for a few months, but unfortunately he had to move away. Therefore, I soon found myself back at step one.
Thankfully, my hunger for knowledge was still there. I decided that teaching myself how to program was probably the best thing to do for now.
There are two incredible books that are the foundation of my career.
- A Smarter Way To Learn HTML & CSS by Mark Myers
If you’re thinking about a path into programming, I recommend that you read those two books.
Another great resource at the beginning of my journey was Codecademy.
I used several online resources to teach myself for about a year and a half. However, I got to a point where I was just stumbling across the same basic material over and over. I knew that I had to take on a dynamic approach to learning. However, I had just received my Associates degree and didn’t have another four years to spare to earn a Computer Science degree. After weeks of research, it seemed like going to a coding boot camp was my best bet.
Here are a few reasons why I chose a bootcamp:
- Career support and interview preparation: Many other boot camps just don’t help you with the job search. I was impressed by the hiring team at this camp and the jobs network they have built.
- 600+ hours: I was serious about this career transition and I wanted to be in a program that was immersive. This program was a minimum eight hours a day, five days a week for four months. It was the equivalent of getting a 2-year degree, as far as hours go.
- . One on one experience: Whether I was taking the course online or in-person, I always had someone at my fingertips. It’s nice to be able to send an email / chat and get personalized help.
One very important thing to remember is that a bootcamp will only help jumpstart your career. The majority of your success will rely on how much effort, time and practice you put into learning. Going to a bootcamp is not always cheap either. It is an investment. I attended a boot camp which cost over $10K. However, I have no regrets over the price because it has paid off. After four months of living and breathing code, it was graduation time. I had by now created a few websites and built my first portfolio. It wasn’t easy to land an interview, especially since I did not have any prior work experience in programming.
FINDING A JOB
When you are a boot camp grad, you will have to throw your resume at everything until you land a few hits. Usually your previous work history matters and employers are typically looking for some sort of history of success and drive. You don’t need a quantitative background, although it is clearly much more respected. Many front-end jobs are not about mathematical thinking but rather involve using the newer front-end frameworks to enforce organized, maintainable code. These principles aren’t hard but can’t only be taught from a book. Your typical CS grad has often not practiced the particular frameworks to catch these subtle lessons, despite the heavier technical training.
It took about three weeks and 58 job applications to land my first interview. Unfortunately, I did not get hired. The interview process can be tough, mainly because they involve live coding challenges called “whiteboard interviews”. The employer is not necessarily looking for the right answer but wants to know that you can solve problems. They will give you a hypothetical problem and you must use code to solve it. It’s a stressful process but the best that you can do is to learn from it.
MY FIRST JOB
A few interviews later, I landed my first job as a Junior Developer for a digital marketing company. I was working under a Senior Developer who helped guide me and pushed me to learn more. I worked for this company during the day. At night, I would work on freelance projects part-time. The first major project I worked on was a mobile application. It was a startup company that needed their idea built into a mobile app. One piece of advice I live by is — I always take on projects that I don’t know how to do and I force myself to learn the technologies to do them. I had no idea how to develop mobile applications. However, I was eager to learn and purchased a few courses on a framework called Ionic. Five months later, my application was launched on the App Store. I was very proud of myself.
Do not stop learning. The tech world is constantly evolving and companies are looking for the newest, best skills on the market. Taking courses or even attending a more advanced bootcamp is a popular way to stay up to date. You can attend meetups and build personal projects. There are also many online tutorials, books, and blogs that share valuable lessons. The open source movement means there is always something to do, if you’re willing to put in time. The bottom line is that successful engineers must truly love to learn new things and proactively seek opportunities. It’s very easy to get stuck on “old” tech and stunt your career growth, if you don’t keep up with the times.
Don’t be afraid to work temporary contract jobs or freelance for a while to build your resume with experience. I was a struggling Junior Developer for almost two years and even found myself unemployed several times. However, through hard work and determination, I landed an amazing job with a great company and plan to spend the rest of my programming career with them.